A return to defending has Connecticut back to its winning ways. The Huskies look to maintain that focus Saturday against Cincinnati, which is struggling to stop anyone.
The fifth-ranked Huskies (13-1, 2-1 Big East) allowed then-No. 11 Georgetown to shoot 47.2 percent in a 74-63 loss on Dec. 29, but have given up an average of 52.0 points on 29.7 percent shooting in two victories since that defeat. Overall, they are holding opponents to 37.3 percent shooting, good for third in the Big East.
UConn, in the middle of a three-game conference road swing that wraps up next Thursday at St. John’s, is trying to build off Tuesday’s 61-55 victory at No. 25 West Virginia.
Jeff Adrien had 17 points and Stanley Robinson pulled down 15 rebounds for Connecticut, which had a 52-33 edge on the boards while holding the Mountaineers to 30.3 percent shooting.
“Our biggest emphasis tonight was to bang the boards,” coach Jim Calhoun said. “With a 52-33 rebound advantage, I think we did a pretty good job. Stanley Robinson was absolutely magnificent.”
Robinson, who missed the first eight games after taking a leave of absence, has averaged 6.8 points and 6.0 rebounds in six games. The 6-foot-9 junior has 18 points and 22 rebounds in starting the last two games, giving the Huskies an imposing front line along with the 6-7 Adrien and 7-3 center Hasheem Thabeet, who contributed 13 points and 13 rebounds Tuesday.
UConn’s front line may cause all sorts of problems for Cincinnati (10-5, 0-2), which has lost three straight. After struggling in losing their Big East opener - an 84-50 rout at Marquette - the Bearcats again did little right defensively in an 87-79 home loss on Wednesday to Providence in which they allowed the Friars to shoot 50.0 percent (12-for-24) from 3-point range and 53.8 percent overall.
“Until we can get five guys on the court that can defend and get stops, we are going to continue to struggle,” coach Mick Cronin said. “I tried to tell our team that everybody wants to be concerned about offense. All that does is exemplify how inexperienced we are. We need to be worried about defense.
“We won eight games in the Big East last year playing tremendous defense. Defense doesn’t take talent, it takes heart, focus, and energy. We are struggling to get five guys on the same page defensively.”
The Bearcats allowed Marquette and Providence to shoot a combined 55.1 percent (27-for-49) from beyond the arc. Connecticut is second in the conference in shooting at 49.2 percent and third in 3-point shooting at 36.6.
A lone bright spot for Cronin on Wednesday was guard Deonta Vaughn finding his offensive rhythm. After being held scoreless for the first time in his career in the loss to Marquette, Vaughn - averaging a team-high 14.5 points - had 20 against Providence.
UConn has won all three games between the teams since Cincinnati joined the Big East in 2005, including a 96-51 rout last season in which the Huskies stormed to a 47-15 halftime lead. Adrien, Robinson and Thabeet combined for 46 points and 21 rebounds, while the Bearcats failed to have a player score in double figures.